Category: Sociology of Health & Illness

Race and Racism in the NHS

I was privileged to host a conversation with Tarek Younis and Andrew Smart as part of the BSA Medical Sociology Group virtual event on 10th September 2020, about their papers, published in Sociology of Health and Illness, and included in the journal’s virtual collection of papers on race and ethnicity. The collection and the conversation at the conference were inspired by recent calls for racial justice, provoked in part by the killing of George Floyd, just one of too many...

Is ADHD diagnosis flawed? Younger children in a school year group are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD globally

In 2019, I was the lead author of a paper titled Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder late birthdate effect common in both high and low prescribing international jurisdictions: a systematic review. We reviewed 22 studies from 13 countries covering over 15 million children, and found that it is normal for the youngest children in a school-year-group to be diagnosed with and ‘medicated’ for ADHD at a much higher rate than their older classmates. This ADHD late birthdate effect was typically strongest...

Populism, policy and pandemics

Across the globe there has been an upswing in populist right wing political parties in the past decade. This raises a number of particular challenges for the provision of health and social care. For example, witness the cross-country disparities in excess mortalities linked to COVID-19. If we look at countries with right wing populist leaders (e.g. USA, Brazil) compared to other countries (e.g. New Zealand). Much of this difference can be accounted for by the populist rejection of expertise and...

Lonely patients’ ambivalent engagements with digital media

Feeling isolated or lonely is common among chronically ill people. They may suffer severe pain, have limited mobility, and/or experience stigmatisation—depending on the nature of their condition. Consequently, many will turn to digital technologies to make connections with others. In a recent Australian study on patients’ use of digital media, my colleagues and I found that our respondents often spontaneously mentioned during their interviews that they felt isolated or lonely and that the internet and social media provided valuable tools...

Drawing a line in the sand: diagnosing autism spectrum conditions in the UK

If we think about it diagnostically, somewhere there is a line drawn in the sand . . . and where that line is changes really, historically. Consultant Clinical Psychiatrist A sociology of diagnosis approach considers the place of diagnosis in the institution of medicine and the social framing of disease definitions. Considering diagnosis as a social process rather than a ‘moment of clinical purity’ allows investigation into the social forces that may shape diagnosis and the cultural discourses drawn upon....

Put to the test: For a new sociology of testing

A test can be defined as an orchestrated attempt to reveal an entity’s potentially unknown properties or capacities. A drug trial, a pregnancy test, and a planetary probe are all procedures designed to ascertain the properties of some entity. However, while tests and testing are well‐established social forms, their role in culture, economy, politics, and everyday life seems to be expanding. With smart city experimentation, randomized controlled trials in economic development, and apps to test your personality and the performance...

School Closures During COVID-19: Potential Impacts on Homeschooling Regulation

Life as we know it is rapidly changing in the current coronavirus pandemic. While many Americans are experiencing unprecedented financial hardship as unemployment rates are skyrocketing, others with relatively unaffected jobs are nonetheless worried about other aspects of this “new normal”: no handshakes, no large gatherings, and even moving freely about or visiting with loved ones is restricted. Many, of course, are also falling ill or losing family members and friends. Although some states are more affected than others, the...

No Time for Blind Optimism

The world is facing the most serious health catastrophe since 1918.  A global pandemic—one that many medical authorities warned would happen sooner or later—is here.  The coronavirus travels quietly, widely, and can have deadly consequences.  At this writing, well over 1.5 million people have been infected and close to 90,000 have died.  Compare this to the SARS epidemic of 2002-2003 which infected 8,098 people and killed 774 or the 2014 outbreak of the Ebola virus which infected 18,000 people and...

Distance as a social vocation

In this article, I explore the habitus of social distancing to critically engage with the different human conditions that grips us amidst the coronavirus pandemic. I also briefly discuss different kinds of distances we practice in our everyday life before I go on to show how distance is turned into a vocation upon which our survival and hope rests.  The foundation of society is also based on distance as much as it is on closeness. Distances complete us. Let me take you...

The Sociology of Medical Guidelines

Allen Frances, M.D, is an American psychiatrist who chaired the DSM-IV taskforce, and later criticized the DSM-5 and American psychiatry for their roles in manufacturing mental illnesses and the epidemic of overdiagnosis. In this blog post he makes a well-founded plea for sociologic contributions to medicine. Before the Flexner report in 1909, medical education and practice in America were chaotic and of low quality. After the report, both were quickly and dramatically reformed in ways that seemed completely wonderful at...

‘If there were doctors who could understand our problems, I would already be better’: dissatisfactory health care and marginalisation in superdiverse neighbourhoods

In the 2007 film, originally entitled ‘Allotment’, the inimitable Omid Djalili plays a refugee doctor called Ali who consults in his allotment shed. Ali reviews the numerous medications taken by allotmenteer Charlie (played by John Henshaw). Ali indicates one packet of pills: ‘This one here is for women problems! Do you have women problems?’ Charlie looks annoyed, puzzled and then embarrassed. Why is Charlie taking drugs for a gynecological condition? Given Charlie’s dislike of visiting the health centre, his wife...

Money, markets and trade caused coronavirus pandemic

In recent weeks, the microscopic bundle of genes and proteins that comprises the Covid-19 coronavirus has been ascribed almost miraculous powers to infect huge and growing numbers of human bodies.  The media coverage of the outbreak  has ensured that few are unaware of the respiratory tract symptoms that the infection produces: symptoms that – in the case of the most vulnerable – can kill. However, this account has largely sidelined the social, economic and political environment that has contributed to...

The lack of common sense in disorder thinking

Disorder thinking has been popular and dominant in recent decennia, with a rising number of behaviors and emotions being medicalized into a psychiatric disease. More people today than ever before in history are being diagnosed and treated for ever lighter quirks, drawing professional attention away from those who need treatment most. One recent example of medicalizing a problem that someone might have is Misophonia. Misophonia In 2013, a research group led by the Chair of the Dutch Psychiatry Association introduced...

‘Women of my age tend to drink’: Understanding how older Australian and Danish women negotiate the pleasures and risks of their alcohol use

When we think of risky drinking, typically we think of young people ‘binge drinking’, passing out on the footpath and generally looking a bit ‘messy’. The media reinforces the notion that drinking is primarily a problem among young people by regularly circulating stories and images of young people being drunk in public and causing problems either to themselves or bystanders. This emphasis on young people’s drinking is not surprising, particularly since they are more likely to drink in public places,...

“If it’s not on Strava it doesn’t matter”. The collective shaping of running via self-tracking social interactions

“If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen”, I have often been told as I explain my research to runners and cyclists familiar with the social fitness platform. Self-tracking has become an everyday activity, and not just for athletes (and ‘wannabe’ athletes). Wearable devices for self-tracking of sleep, food intake, physical activity and even sex are readily available, and smart phones gather data on steps, heart rate and sleep without you even knowing. The ethics and power issues associated with...